Golf Ball

Widening National Participation in Golf

Research carried out by University of Lincoln sports scientists has informed England Golf’s policies to increase participation in the sport and improve the health of the nation.

This comprehensive study on the barriers to participation in golf across the UK was led by researchers from Lincoln’s School of Sport and Exercise Science and the results have been used by the national governing body for golf to significantly revise its 2013-17 Whole Sport Plan for golf.

This involved substantial changes to the GolfMark scheme, which is England Golf’s national initiative aimed at widening participation in the sport.

The scheme’s main aim is to recognise junior- and beginner-friendly golf facilities. Once a club is awarded GolfMark status it has been proven to increase awareness of the sport in the community and can lead to increased membership.

Research was carried out by Dr Mark F Smith and Dr David Piggott, supported by research students Gary Leslie and Gregory Poller. The work involved reviewing literature on barriers to participation in, and social exclusion from, sport (particularly golf); a comprehensive survey of 24 golf club representatives across the UK; and in-depth case studies of three golf clubs.

The project was framed around the goal to understand and evaluate golf participation in the UK and was focused on what has led to reduced participation among women, young people, minority ethnic groups and the working classes; the impact GolfMark is having in terms of widening participation in golf clubs; and what barriers remain to the successful implementation of GolfMark.

The key findings were that powerful groups such as white, middle-class men were the main participants in the sport, there was a general lack of awareness of the GolfMark scheme and clubs who maintained traditional cultural conventions were unlikely to make progress with the policy.

The overall recommendations were to widen participation by creating a greater breadth of memberships, emphasising female-friendly situations, appointing a variety of individuals to prominent decision-making positions and re-evaluating selection processes and dress code policies.

"We explored particular case studies within golf clubs to find out, at the grass roots, what some of the members' perceptions of GolfMark, participation, and the barriers were."

With regard to GolfMark, it was recommended to highlight the long-term economic impact of the scheme for clubs and reduce the complexity of the application process. A new online signposting and resource system to guide and support clubs wanting to achieve GolfMark status was also developed.

A working group was set up and the research was influential in leading to the revision of the GolfMark scheme - re-launched in 2013.

The research was facilitated through a research grant from English Golf Union (now England Golf) and The Royal & Ancient. This led to the production of a technical report and a conference paper presented to the International Sociology of Sport Association's World Congress event.

The technical report’s findings and recommendations were discussed within England Golf at the top level at senior executive meetings, and were filtered down through the organisation to regional development officers and the county development officer network.

The intended outcome of increasing and widening participation in golf also contributes to many of the objectives of the government body Sport England, which had identified the number of people participating regularly in golf (more than once a week), had fallen from a high of 948,300 in 2008 to a low of 860,900 in late 2010. Participation in golf has been shown to be skewed towards older, white males in higher socioeconomic groups, which contravenes Sport England’s aim to “create sporting opportunities in every community”.

Addressing these issues will not only assist England Golf but contribute to wider government objectives in improving the health of the nation.